Chelsea-Man United reduced to battle of pride

This year’s Premier League shows no signs of letting up, with unprecedented shocks and drama. Tottenham is contributing plenty, with a young squad that's turning heads, including Dele Alli.

Every week, will chat with Sportsnet soccer commentator James Sharman about the big stories and issues in the Premier League, and preview the weekend’s games.

What’s your take on Pep Guardiola coming to Manchester City next season?
It is the moment City became legit on all levels. This club has been in the mix for trophies for several years now, even under Thaksin Shinawatra’s short reign, but obviously that was taken to a new level under the current ownership. Despite competent managers in Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, it has just felt that one ingredient was missing, that of a truly world-class and long-term manager.

So, the richest most ambitious club in the world, a club already with a core of world-class players, has added the best manager in the world. Pep reinvents teams, and frankly we cannot guess what he is going to turn City into, because his management is so fluid and ever changing. City’s gain is also the Premier League’s gain, even if that means that a dynasty is coming its way, this is a new era, the Pep era.

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How does this move affect the managerial scene in the Premier League? How will it affect what prospective managerial moves that Manchester United and Chelsea could make this summer?
The fallout from Pep’s arrival is almost as fascinating as Pep actually arriving at Eastlands. Both Manchester United and Chelsea have lost out on acquiring the best manager in the sport. This is an example of how the power is shifting, that United’s drawing factor, although immense, is not what it once was. I say that assuming they approached Pep, and tried to sign him. If they didn’t? Well, that’s a different topic entirely.

What this all means is that we’re about to hear Jose Mourinho’s name linked to United. He has had relative success versus Pep in the past, and will be anxious to build his reputation once again. As much as we can argue the merits of Mourinho’s defence-first philosophy against the rich United attacking traditions, it does just seem the natural fit to me.

Ryan Giggs is the romantic choice to replace Louis van Gaal and we all know a former star can step into the breach and become a brilliant manager (see Pep), but it is so rare, and surely Giggs’ best bet is to learn his trade far away from Manchester once he is ready to step up from assistant.

As for Chelsea, what are Chelsea right now? This team needs to be rebuilt, and who is the man to do that? Diego Simeone? Joachim Löw? Chelsea’s managerial search might be the story to watch this spring, as there are good, qualified men out there not named Mourinho or Guardiola by all accounts.

Is this unfair to Manuel Pellegrini? And what’s the Chilean’s next move?
Pellegrini has been around the block long enough not to feel too aggrieved after doing a respectable job during his City tenure. It comes down to the fact that his employers cannot turn down the chance to sign a much younger man who also happens to be the best in the business.

On a positive note, the last man Pep replaced (Jupp Heynckes a Bayern Munich) just happened to lead his club to the treble in his final lame duck season. There is a very good chance Pellegrini will bid adieu to the City faithful with a couple more trophies in his pocket. Pellegrini has proved his worth, and if he chooses, he will have his pick of jobs in England and abroad.

Chelsea hosts Manchester United on Sunday. How do these teams match up against each other coming into this marquee tilt?
These are two teams having all sorts of trouble creating chances and scoring goals. Sure, United finally found some chutzpah midweek in a 3-0 win over Stoke City, but the big picture remains the same as it was a week ago.

I wouldn’t go as far as labelling these two fallen giants, but this has been obviously a tough year, with both clubs really looking ahead to next season. United of course are still in reach of the top of the table, but who is kidding who, fourth place is the main goal currently. I fear this will be a tentative, dour affair, but could provide us a moment of drama for bragging rights.

How do you see newcomer Pato fitting in at Chelsea?
Not very well. Already Guus Hiddink is telling us that Pato is ostensibly in pre-season mode at the moment. He did nothing back in South America to suggest he can return to the heights of five years ago when he was (when healthy) one of the best in the world.

Pato says he went back to Corinthians and Sao Paulo to learn about his body and his health; I hope he was a quick learner because his lack of understanding in this area was the main reason for his fall from grace. Adjusting to the rigours of the Premier League down the stretch run seems like that to me, a real stretch.

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